“Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.”
Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, 1993
The spirit lamps were always burning in the Dental Clinic. Inside the small wooden building there were two dental chairs, each flanked by swivelling tables and lights, extending out from the chair prosthetically. Through the windows, no foreground, no activity - only the ocean, the horizon, sky.
The spirit lamps were entrancing, mystical. Like a priest’s censer, they united a sense of holy inscrutability with an evocative odour. The lamps’ glass reservoirs held a sublimely ethereal liquid: methylated spirits dyed a divine pale purple. Gentian Violet. The swivelling table was always set out perfectly with the spirit lamp, the heavy milk-white glass, the small crucible for mixing amalgam. A mouth full of mercury. Quicksilver.
Passing the dental instruments through the flame and into the mouth drew some of the smell with it. The strange smell of burning meths. The ritualised procedures. The flame, the water. The dental nurse in her nun-like uniform. A glass is offered. Lifted to the lips. Rinse. Spit. The smell of the meths, the mysterious instruments, the lighting, the head scarf. A fusion of something sacred and unknowable, a mysterious order.